NEW BEDFORD — Restaurants, a new seafood auction house, retail shops and an operations hub for the offshore wind industry may soon join the Schooner Ernestina-Morrissey and SeaStreak ferries at the State Pier.
MassDevelopment, a state finance agency that manages the 8-acre, state-owned property, announced Thursday that it selected Taber’s Wharf Partners, a conglomerate of five companies, to develop the pier after putting out a request for proposals in April.
The partners, which have entered a provisional agreement with the agency, are Buyers and Sellers Exchange (BASE), Raw Seafoods, Servedwell Hospitality, Crowley Wind Services and Coast Line Transfers.
They’re backed by some familiar New Bedford names: Steve Silverstein, who owns and operates several city restaurants, including Cisco Brewers and the Black Whale; Ed Washburn, the former director of the New Bedford Port Authority and now-managing director of Coast Line Transfers; and Cassie Canastra, director of operations at BASE.
According to a May proposal from Crowley, one pier facility would serve as an operations and maintenance hub for the offshore wind industry, with crew transfer vessels and service operations vessels taking people and supplies to and from the lease areas. The group also noted the existing SeaStreak ferry services to the islands would continue.
Silverstein said he looked forward to opening a ‘boat to table’ restaurant.
Per a September presentation, they mentioned some challenges to achieving their proposed development: the need for a 99-year lease, parking to support anticipated foot traffic, a new security plan, and capital investment.
Mayor Jon Mitchell lauded the news.
“The development group selected today, comprised almost entirely of established New Bedford-based businesses, has presented a proposal consistent with what stakeholder groups have demanded: a redevelopment scenario that at once serves the port’s maritime industries and knits the front of the pier to the downtown in order to draw more residents and visitors to the waterfront,” he said in a statement.
The pier currently has two warehouses, a multi-tenant building, and several accessory and utility buildings.
“I think what we’re trying to do is sort of a reflection of what the port’s future will be — commercial fishing alongside offshore wind, and more tourism and ferry activities right in the heart of the waterfront,” Washburn told The Light. “It’s a big site, and we think it can do a whole lot more than it’s doing right now.”
The process of selecting the next developer was not without criticism. State legislators took issue with the MassDevelopment, claiming it was thwarting efforts by officials and the public to obtain more information on the submitted proposals. As a state facility, the legislators said the public should have had a chance to weigh in on the selection process.
“Until today’s press release, no one in the public, no one in the legislature, has been privy to the documents going back and forth,” said Rep. Bill Straus (10th Bristol). “This was done entirely in the dark.”
“The pier was grossly mismanaged for many years, and it has taken a lot of effort to get it to this point in the development process,” said Sen. Mark Montigny, who in a press release outlined key legislation he led to advance the economic development. But similar to others in the state legislature, he said: “The lack of substantive communications from the agency over these past several months has been concerning, and we will remain engaged in this process to ensure that state pier is put to its highest and best use . . . While this is a very encouraging step toward our continued economic revitalization, we will carefully scrutinize MassDevelopment’s recommendation announced today.”
Mitchell pushed back by shifting blame to the legislators, who he said “have allowed that facility to languish for at least three decades.”
MassDevelopment received only three proposals in response to the April request, per an agency spokesperson, and Taber’s Wharf Partners was not the only group to propose some space for offshore wind, reflecting the nascent industry is likely to grow its footprint on New Bedford’s historically fishing waterfront.
Andrew Saunders, president of the future Foss Marine Terminal (which is slated to be the city’s second offshore wind staging site), also submitted a proposal to develop the property with other partners, including fellow Foss terminal investor Lou Cabral and James A. Barker, the president of SeaStreak (one of the pier’s existing tenants).
Their team, the New Bedford State Pier Consortium, proposed a parking structure, a new warehouse, two retail structures, and an operations and maintenance facility to be used by offshore wind developers.
“The location is perfect for this use, as it features waterside access and dockage, two critically important assets for vessels transporting technicians and equipment to the wind farms,” the consortium wrote in their proposal.
Saunders did not immediately return a request for comment.
A third proposal came from American Cruise Lines, which currently operates small cruise ships that visit several states and cities, including New Bedford. The company pitched a “cruise gateway” that would include a park, fisherman’s monument, parking lot and welcome center.
According to MassDevelopment, this provisional agreement activates a 180-day period in which the involved parties will identify a detailed development plan, and engage with current and potential users of the property. During this period, the parties will also provide financial statements and estimates, as well as the planned phases of development.
Email Anastasia E. Lennon at firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s note: This story was modified on Dec. 23, 2022, to add comment from Sen. MarkMontigny.
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